No pain no gain.
Many bodybuilder types can see why they torture themselves in the gym. They are pursuing a goal.
But why are so many people spending millions of dollars to deliberately participate in activities where there isn’t any apparent goal except to be uncomfortable?
We can see it in the 3-5 million people who have taken part in the “Tough Mudder” series of races.
This insane obstacle course race has participants running through mud and climbing over obstacles. But if the one-mile version wasn’t extreme enough they now have ultra-endurance versions of the race which go on for hours.
Here is the way it is described on their web site:
“Tough Mudder X is the most insane race around, created to disrupt the sports industry. This is the ultimate race to determine the fittest athlete in the world. This pulse-pounding competition pits the world’s elite athletes against a one-mile course built to put speed, agility, and strength to the test with world-class obstacles and challenging workouts. Tough Mudder X will push good to great, better to best, and The Toughest Athletes on the Planet beyond their limits. “
But this isn’t the only way seemingly sane people spend money to get uncomfortable.
CrossFit has 15,000 plus locations which is more than Starbucks. There are over 4 million people doing their intense workouts.
In 2018 nearly a half a million people participated in the CrossFit games which consisted of intense workouts involving lifting weights, doing pull-ups and rowing for points in a series of six specialized workouts.
Could it be that this desire for discomfort is a reaction to the comfortable world we also pay so much money to create for ourselves?
We do spend big bucks to surround ourselves with luxury and comfort.
We use technology to make our lives easier.
We drive to avoid walking.
Scientists believe that the problem with pleasure is that its effect wears off. And it wears off fast.
The pleasure of winning the lottery wears off in 18 months. The winners get used to their new life and seek new discomforts so they can enjoy learning how to overcome those challenges.
By putting some pain in our normally good lives may make us appreciate the good stuff we enjoy.
For instance, after a hard-cold day skiing, nothing is better than some time in the hot tub.
“Relief is not just the absence of a negative”, says Dr. Brock Bastian (Ph.D. in Social Psychology) author of The Other Side of Happiness. “It’s a positive in itself. It may be the antidote to a life that feels brainy and confined.”
“The more comfort we have the more we will actively seek out discomfort,” Dr. Bastian concluded.
Dr. Rebecca Scott who teaches marketing at Cardiff Business School has been studying the Tough Mudder participants for The Journal of Consumer Research.
“We found the target market for these races tended to be people with highly intellectualized jobs, where the mind is very foregrounded and the body is backgrounded, “says Scott.
“Pain brings our bodies back to our attention. You are released from your mind.”
Of course, there are t-shirts and bragging rights at the office following a tough competition and while scientists have a theory why people pay to do this to themselves, many of us are still thinking maybe there are millions of crazy people.